By Dave Hendrick

Newswise — Marriott International CFO Leeny Oberg said she knew she was destined to go into business as soon as she realized her affinity for numbers while a student at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce.

She wanted to be more than a number cruncher, however, and sought professional roles involving operations and deal-making at companies like Goldman Sachs and Sallie Mae. Eventually, she found a home in the hospitality industry, where she has held executive positions at Marriott International and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., one of Marriott’s luxury brands.

Speaking at the Darden School of Business at a Leadership Speaker Series event, Oberg said that while she loved working at the intersection of operations and finance, the subject matter alone was not reason enough to join a company.

“Finding the right place for you is as important as finding the right discipline,” Oberg said. “Corporations are like people. They have their own personality and spirit and own way of growing, and finding the right place is critically important.”

Oberg, who was introduced at the event by her daughter, Darden First Year student Colleen Oberg, offered students a Top 10 list of career advice:

  1. Do your own SWOT analysis on industries you are considering.
  2. Every email is a public document.
  3. Take two years at a time.
  4. Get negotiating and public speaking experience.
  5. Breadth and depth is key.
  6. Know your weaknesses as well as your strengths.
  7. Build strong relationships with peers.
  8. Think a couple levels up from your own and have an opinion.
  9. Practice empathy.
  10. Love your work and work hard at it.

Now CFO of the world’s largest hospitality company following the acquisition of Starwood Hotels, Oberg told students she had not experienced a steady climb to the top. She encouraged them to be willing to take what might seem like a lateral or backward step, if it added to a depth of experience.

Professionals should approach their careers with an open mind and flexible outlook, Oberg said, advising students to “be adaptable in life except as it relates to your morals.”


About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.